There was a blackspot in the federal Budget that could leave many regional residents, particularly in Orana and the Far West, cut off from the vital tools of today’s world – mobile and data connectivity.
The Budget did not include funding for the fourth round of the federal government’s Mobile Blackspot program introduced a few years ago to reduce a significant lack of mobile services in regional Australia.
The program is building communications stations in some regions across the nation. Some work from the first two rounds is still under way and round 3 funding allocations are expected to open this year.
But, the final round is now off – until cash is put aside.
From the outset, the program was not going to fix the entire problem.
The connectivity “drought” in the regions saw the creation of a new lobby group, the Regional, Rural and Remote Communications Coalition (RRRCC) comprising about 20 heavyweight organisations from the consumer, health, farming and agricultural sectors.
Given the connectivity issue is nothing new, it is fair to ask why funding was stalled and when the government is going to make a solution to the problem a real priority.
The lobby says the regions are locked out of future economic growth and prosperity by the digital divide and this undermines Australia’s productivity.
It has a point. It is about the farmers, their businesses and people and businesses in towns and centres. It is about overcoming isolation. It is about accessing services available in metropolitan areas. We pay our taxes, too.
Asked about the Budget miss Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce said: “with any budget you've got to make ends meet” and the government was investing in nbn satellites and nationwide communications.
All that may well be true, but the move may mean this region, as with others, is going to get 75 per cent of a progam that was only ever going to solve part of the problem.
The “old” Parkes electorate boundaries took in about a third of NSW and about half the area was a blackspot. Parkes was enlarged to take in the Far West. One can only imagine the size of the blackspot now.
An RRRCC member said “access to data is now as high an issue as the water issues were”.
The government must give this “drought” top priority.